MiG-35, Should Bangladesh Air Guard (Force) make the same mistake again?

A historical view of Mig

Russian Mig fighter jets have been in the market for many decades, and are known as among the cheapest options for any air force. The new Mig-35 and its legacy Mig-29 have their baggage, and few success stories in any air warfare around the world from the Korean War to the Gulf War.

MiG-35

It was the Dassault Mirage jet which saved the Indian Air Force in the Kargil conflict, not the Mig. Although Indian Air Force has an extensive inventory of Migs, the Kargil success was one of the driving factors for IAF to select Dassault Rafale. The Indian Air Force has repeatedly rejected Russian offer to buy MiG instead India is selected European Fighter Jets.

What is MiG-35?

The MiG-35 is the export variant of Mig-29M2/KR without the arrestor tail hook. It has no AESA radar or thrust vector control of the engines. It has been fitted with Zhuk-M mechanically scanned pulse doplar radar. It is the last production run of a any MiG fighter jet to sustain RSK-MiG in the business.

The modern 4.5 generation fighter

A modern fighter jet must offer technological and informational advantages over the enemy aircraft to be able to defend the skies successfully. This critical factor has to lead the development of an intermediate 4.5 generation fighter jet before bringing the fifth-generation fighter jet.

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A 4.5 generation fighter jet must have an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and reduced radar cross (RCS). If the Mig is compared with its counterparts like Gripen NG or F/A-18E/F, then obviously the Migs lack an advanced radar and reduced RCS.

Almost all Russian fighter jets are manufactured with speed and agility in mind rather than avionics, radar, and RCS, including the recently developed Sukhoi-57.

A comparison with its European counterpart

The Zhuk-M radar of Mig-35 is a mechanically steered pulse doppler radar manufactured by the Phazotron NIIR Corporation confirmed by the MiGs communications director, Anastasia Kravchenko, spoke to Defence IQ . According to an independent military think tank, Zhuk radar has +- 70 degree oblique view, not a Wide Field of Regard. The export variant of Zhuk-ME also known as Zhuk-AE is yet to be developed for export customer.

The Phazotron Zhuk AE / FGA-35 radar uses multiple four channel transceiver modules generating an output of 5 watts per channel, installed on a liquid-cooled base plate to dissipate the generated heat. If a specific transceiver is overheated, it will be switched off by the radar computer until it cools down. The Zhuk-AE is currently undergoing bench test and will not be available until 2021 if Russia continues to fund the project.

The Raven AESA radar of Gripen NG is an X band Active Electronically Scan Array (AESA) radar manufactured by Leonardo airborne and space systems. According to the manufacturer’s specification, the Raven radar provides plus/minus 100 degree wide field of regard.

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The radar makes use of AESA alert-confirm techniques to confirm targets for the first detection. This combined with optimised AESA waveforms results in increased track initiation ranges, while simultaneously maintaining situational awareness.

This is combined with the full capabilities of a detection, tracking, and prosecution system to meet the needs of emerging threats.

The APG-79 radar of F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is also an AESA radar. According to manufacturer’s specifications, the APG-79 radar of the Super Hornet is optimised situational awareness and provides superior air-to-air and air-to-surface capability.

The agile beam enables the multimode radar to interleave in near-real time, so that pilot and crew can use both modes simultaneously. The manufacturer claims that the APG-79 AESA radar is built on solid-state transmit and receive modules to virtually eliminate any mechanical breakdown.

In short, if I translate this technical jargon into non-technical language, then the Zhuk-ME radar of Mig-35 can be compared with a visually impaired person, the APG-79 radar of Super Hornet with a person with excellent vision, and the Raven radar of Gripen to that of a person with perfect vision.

The Mig-35 RCS

The primary measure of stealth aircraft is the low observability (LO), also known as the radar cross section (RCS) of the target, whether this is an aircraft, missiles, or ships.

How does it work?

The radar pulse goes out from the transmitter, hits the target, and bounces back.

The radar receiver measures the energy in the return signal in decibel (dB) units, but that is a hard way for normal people to visualise the size of a target. So, you can convert the decibel to square metres to get the picture. So, for an aircraft with an RCS of 5 dB, it would be 3.16 square metres.

The RCS of an aircraft depends on its characteristics, the orientation of the target to the radar source. Many aircrafts will have a smaller frontal RCS, but bigger rear and side RCS.

Also, some fighter jets have their largest RCS from the side and the rear, due to the exhaust nozzles. Moreover, RCS depends on the wavelength of the radar signal and how far away the target is. The lower the RCS value, the less possible that the conventional radar will detect the aircraft from a distance.

According to military think tank mil-embedded.com, the Russian4++ generation Mig-35 has an RCS of 3 square metres and 4.5 generation Su-35 has an RCS of 3 square metres.

The 4.5 generation F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter jet has an RCS of 1 square metre. The next generation Gripen incorporated stealth designs into its basic structure without compromising performance. Hence, the Gripen ended up with such a low RCS of only 0.1 square metres.

If BAF procures Migs again, Bangladesh will end up spending hard-earned billions to achieve no technological and strategic advantage over any regional air force

The Gripen is a small fighter jet with low RCS, but computer modelling was used to optimise areas such as the curves of the aircraft and the engine intakes along with their inlet tubes to deflect radar waves. Special Radar Absorbing Materials (RAM) were also used in critical areas enabling the Gripen to lower its RCS even further and giving it an excellent advantage against radar.

To understand RCS in plain English, an average man has an RCS of about 1 square metre and a bird has an RCS of about 0.1 square metres.The challenge of a surface-to-air missile or air-to-air missile to shoot down a Gripen NG with RCS of about 0.1 square metres is like shooting down a bird flying at the speed of sound. For Mig-35 with an RCS of about 3 square metres, it is like shooting down a bus flying at the speed of sound.

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The sales tactics

As of now, no details are available publicly about ToT from either Rosoboronexport or BAF. I doubt that Rosoboronexport is genuinely offering transfer of any vital technology to Bangladesh. It is the standard sales tactics worked in the past 50 years towards India, but China is an exception.

China received large-scale assistance from the Soviet Union during The Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance.

Due to massive industrialisation, China is able to reproduce Soviet-made weapons domestically.

The Russian sales tactics led to the Indian Air Force dearly having no spare parts for its Sukhoi fleet, and an abundance of fighter jets are resting under the Indian hanger.

Quality Issues

Mikoyan Design Bureau’s Quality Control Issues Remain Since Algeria Rejected Mig-29.

A new MiG-35D two-seat, advanced “generation 4++” fighter lost a large wing panel from its left wing after takeoff during a flight demonstration at the MAKS Aviasalon 2019 air show at Zhukovsky Air Base outside Moscow on Thursday, August 29, 2019. The aircraft, which may have been crewed by a delegation from the Indian Air Force at the time of the panel separation, continued with its flight demonstration and landed without incident.

Maintenance Issues of MiG-29K

The Indian Navy’s primary fighter operating from the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya faces operational deficiencies due to defects in engines, airframes and fly-by-wire systems, according to a report by India’s autonomous auditor, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). India procured 45 MiG-29K and equipment worth $2.2 billions.

Arun Prakash, former Chief of Naval Staff of Indian Navy is highly critical of what he called the “lethargy” by the Russians in the manufacturing and maintenance of the aircraft.

On problems with the engine, the CAG report said: “Since induction in February 2010, 40 engines (62 percent) of twin-engined MiG-29K have been withdrawn from service/rejected due to design-related defects.

Additionally, the serviceability of the warplanes was low, ranging from 21.30 percent to 47.14 percent, according to the report.

“The roots of these problems (serviceability and defects) lie in the extremely poor quality control in the Russian military-industrial complex and dismal product support being rendered by the Russian industry to the Indian Navy for the past 25 years,” Arun Prakash said. “This is in spite of the fact that the development of the MiG-29K has been totally funded by the Indian Navy.”

On how the aircraft could affect combat worthiness of the Navy, the CAG report said: “The service life of MiG -29K is 6,000 hours or 25 years (whichever is earlier) but the deficiencies and snags in the aircraft is likely to reduce the operational life of the aircraft, thereby affecting combat worthiness of [the Indian] Navy.”

Detailing the defects of the engine on MiG-29K, the report noted that “even as the RD-33 MK engine (mounted on MiG-29K) was considered an advancement over the engine of the MiG-29K, its reliability remains questionable.”

“The engine-design defects should be rectified with the utmost urgency at the Russians’ cost,” Prakash said. “Any respectable company, conscious of its reputation, would attend to this. But the oligarchs who control the Russian military-industrial complex are too brazen, for two reasons: (a) they know that India has not choice and (b) they are confident that Indian politicians will never turn the screw on them.”

Bangladeshi air force rejects mig-35

As for Bangladeshi MRCA deals, Russia will behave the same way they did with India and Iran. Once the sales are over, Russia will withdraw the support and supplies of spare parts. Bangladesh’s previous Mig deal was a dud, and until recently, those Migs were stored under the hanger.

If BAF procures MiGs again, Bangladesh will end up spending hard-earned billions to achieve no technological and strategic advantage over any regional air force.

The BAF should ask one question: Are they offering free practice target as Mig-35 to Myanmar Air Force? Hence Bangladesh finally removed MiG-35 from their fighter jet wish list.

Indian Air Force rejects MiG-35

MiG-35 had been offered to the Indian Air Force under the MMRCA deal at cost of $50 million dollars per aircraft. However, France’s Rafale had emerged the winner despite triple the cost of MiG-35. In fact, MiG-35 had not even made the final cut, with the competition ultimately coming down to a choice between the Rafale and the Eurofighter for the IAF. Rafale had emerged the winner, but the MMRCA deal did not see the light of the day. Instead, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to France, it was announced that India will buy 36 Rafale jets off-the-shelf.

Colonel (Retd) KV Kuber, Independent Consultant Defence and Aerospace, who believes that as far as fighter jets are concerned, India should look at the upgrade package for the Sukhoi-30 MKI fleet rather than go for a new warplane altogether. “There is no point introducing a new platform for the IAF. For twin-engine fighter aircraft, we are already getting the Rafales. We already have the bouquet of fighter aircraft, we have the Jaguars, Mirage 2000s, Sukhoi 30 MKIs. MiG-35 had been part of the MMRCA bid, but did not qualify. Russia may indeed have improved upon it, but the fact is that India doesn’t need a new type of aircraft to understand and absorb into its defence ecosystem,” Kuber tells FE Online. “Going ahead we should either acquire more Rafales or definitely go in for the upgrade package of Sukhoi 30-MKIs,” he says. Kuber is also of the view that MiG-35 is still an evolving platform and the Russian Air Force is also yet to get it.

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